I recently had an inquiry from someone who was looking for some possible SEO consulting with me. He was in the process of a redesign and wanted to be sure not to make any mistakes along the way, which is super-smart! The time to be looking at SEO is definitely in the beginning stage of any design or redesign project.

The interesting part of the email was this person's misconceptions about what he thought were important factors for the search engines. I'd like to share those points with you, with my comments following each one:

* Little or no Flash.

This is a huge misconception to many who are trying to design search-engine-friendly websites. There's nothing inherently wrong with using Flash and no reason to avoid it altogether. What you do need to avoid is an *all-Flash* site, as well as Flash navigation. But that's it. And even if you have those things, there are workarounds.

* All scripts should be called from external files.

This is a great idea to keep file size down and make it easy to update your pages, but it's got nothing to do with search engines or how your pages are ranked within them. Search engines have long known how to ignore code that is of no use to them. Whether your scripts are right there in the source code of the page or called up externally will have no bearing on your rankings or search engine relevance.

* The site should be designed using CSS as extensively as possible.

Another myth. CSS doesn't have any special properties that search engines like better than tables or any other HTML code. Again, it may make it easier for you to update your pages, or to use your content for other things, but it's not an SEO technique that will increase rankings or relevance.

* The CSS should be called from external files.

Same as calling up scripts in external files — nice to do, but not a search engine issue in the least.

* There should be no comments in the code. It should be added to an FAQ or Doc-type file.

Why not? I'm not sure where this myth came from, but I suppose if you're thinking that file size is going to affect your search engine rankings, you might also believe this one. It may have also come about because some people used to think that adding keyword phrases to comment tags would help search engine rankings, even though it didn't. Comment tags have long been ignored by the engines, and because of this, you can use them as much or as little in your source code as you would like. I always comment out bits of text and code that I no longer wish to use but that I may want to add back in later. It's absolutely, positively not a problem!

* A large percentage of the code on each page needs to change from page to page so that the search engines don't see the pages as duplicate content.

Nope. You certainly do NOT have to change the code in your pages to avoid duplicate-content issues! Website templates have code that is exactly the same from page to page. This is good and normal and certainly fine with the search engines. One would have to think that the search engineers were really dumb if they were going to penalize pages because they used the same design template from page to page! Sure, you don't want the same exact *content* on every page of your site, but even that is not generally a problem if it's a few sentences here and there. (See my recent article at Danny's Search Engine Land site on the Myth of Duplicate Content.)

* All picture links should have text links under the pictures.

No reason for that at all. Image links that make use of the image alt attribute (aka "alt tags") have always been followed easily by the search engines and will always continue to be followed. They're followed even without the alt attribute, but the words you place in there tell the search engines and the site users exactly what they'll be getting when they follow the link. It's essentially the same thing as the anchor text of a text link.

* DO NOT use drop-down or fly-out menus using JavaScript.

This is fairly good advice; however, there are very easy workarounds if you have to use JavaScript menus for some reason. The "noscript" tag is a perfectly legitimate place to recreate your menu for those who (like the search engines) can't do JavaScript. I've been using this technique since 2000 or so when my website was designed with JavaScript menus, and it's definitely not a problem. I just haven't gotten around to redesigning my site with a more crawler-friendly navigation. Certainly these days, a CSS menu would be a better option.

* Must use basic HTML link navigation (textual navigation, no JavaScript mouse-over, and no image map graphical navigation).

Yes and no. JavaScript links are definitely a no-no. But there are plenty of crawler-friendly image maps, and like I mentioned previously, graphical links are A-OK with search engines.

* All pages must be VALIDATED by an HTML validator and all style sheets need to be VALIDATED through a CSS validator.

Why? This has nothing to do with search engines. It's nice to do, though.

* The majority of the site will be static, as static pages are easier for search engines to crawl and rank properly.

'Fraid not. Dynamic pages are just as easy to crawl and rank as static pages. Most websites today are dynamic because they're simply easier to maintain. The search engines have figured out how to crawl and rank them just fine for many, many years now. It's true that there are specific things you need to watch out for when creating a dynamic site, but most developers are aware of the worst of the issues. You certainly should consult with an SEO if you're changing content management systems, or if you're having problems getting your dynamic URLs spidered and indexed. But there's no reason to have only static pages on your site because you're worried about the search engines being able to index dynamic pages.

* The site needs to be browser-compatible and screen-resolution-compatible.

This is another thing that's nice to do for your site visitors, but it has no bearing on search engine rankings or relevance.

Phew! I hope this helped clear up a lot of misconceptions that anyone else may have had. Please don't get me wrong — I do agree that most of the things listed here are great design tips that can help you to create an awesome, user-friendly website. I just want to make it very clear that they have nothing to do with SEO, rankings, spidering, indexing, etc.


Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

March 22, 2007

CEO and founder of High Rankings®, Jill Whalen has been performing search engine optimization since 1995 and is the host of the free High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter, author of "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" and founder/administrator of the popular High Rankings Search Engine Optimization Forum. In 2006, Jill co-founded SEMNE, a local search engine marketing networking organization for people and companies in New England.

High Rankings is an internationally recognized search engine optimization firm located in Framingham, MA specializing in search engine optimization, SEO consultations, in-house training, site audit reports, search marketing seminars and workshops. High Rankings has a 100% success rate for substantially improving client rankings and targeted traffic.

Jill speaks at national and international conferences and has been writing about SEO and search marketing since 2000. She's been quoted in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report and The Washington Post. Her articles have appeared in numerous print magazines and online websites including CIO Magazine, CMS Focus, The Internet Marketing Report, ClickZ, WorkZ, Inc.com, Entrepreneur, Lycos Small Business, WebProNews, SiteProNews and others. Jill has also appeared on many online and offline radio programs such as Entrepreneur Magazine's E-Biz Radio Show, SearchEngineRadio and the eMarketing Talkshow.

Search Engine Guide > Jill Whalen > What's Important to Search Engines and What's Not